Insights From the World's 9 Most Frugal Cultures

By Tim Lemke on 20 November 2015 1 comment

Americans are great at many things, but we aren't good at saving money. Around the world, there are many other nations where household savings rates are higher than in the U.S., almost to the point where governments are encouraging their citizens to spend more.

Here are nine countries where household savings rates are above average. Should Americans follow their lead?

1. China

Some say it's a leftover feeling of insecurity when the country moved to more free-market principles. Others argue that it's because the Chinese find it important to take care of their parents as they age. Some point to the nation's recent one-child policy, which made it easier to save. Whatever the reason, the Chinese save about 30% of their household income, even as policymakers try to move the country to a more consumption-driven economy.

2. Sweden

They spend less time working than Americans do, but save more of their cash. The Swedes have a household savings rate of more than 11%, among the highest in Europe. Sweden is one of the happiest nations in the world, according to many surveys, too. Could it be that their value their free time instead of buying things?

3. Switzerland

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that Switzerland has an average net household savings rate of 13%, the highest in Europe. That's at least partially due to the high incomes of the country compared to other nations on the continent. But one possible explanation for this saving is a lack of mortgage debt. Only 44% of Swiss people own a home, giving the country one of the lowest homeownership rates in the developed world.

4. India

Wealth, according to many people in India, belongs to the family, not the individual. There is a desire to see money pass from one generation to the next. ZDnet reported that Indians are inclined to buy the lowest-priced version of an item, even if paying more would get them a better user experience. Pennywise and pound foolish? Or are Indians better at sorting wants from needs?

5. Germany

The German people are so frugal that the government has suggested they spend more to give the economy a boost. Banks are annoyed because they have more money in deposits than they know what to do with. Many Germans don't even bother with credit cards, and the average household savings rate is about 10%.

6. Belgium

The good people of Belgium have an average household savings rate of more than 10%, and with interest rates near zero in the country, there's been a push to educate citizens about the value of investing and spending. In Belgium, there are some tax incentives to save. Belgians also tend to save money when they see government debt increase, under the belief that taxes may eventually rise.

7. Chile

Generally speaking, people in South and Central America have relatively low levels of savings. But Chilean households save about 7% of their income, among the highest rates in this part of the world. A study by the Inter-American Development Bank noted that Chile has a lower rate of "informal employment," and more salaried workers, allowing for more stable incomes and higher savings rates.

8. Ireland

Ireland's household savings rate has been creeping up in recent years and is expected to top 9% in 2016, according to OECD. Reports from Irish media suggest that they aren't necessarily "saving" the cash, but using it to pay down debt after learning some hard lessons from the financial crisis. The continued economic problems in Europe have also caused people to be conservative with their money. (See also: 10 Best Stock Markets in the World in 2015)

9. France

The French have held on to their money in recent years due to the shaky economy in Europe, though it's always been one of the thriftiest European countries. OECD reports the household savings rate in France at more than 15%. The BBC reported in 2008 that France weathered the credit crisis better than the U.S. or Britain because it did not get caught up in irrational borrowing.

What's your savings rate?

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IBikeNYC

I would love to see another article about what, specifically, the citizens of each of these thriftier countries DO with their money.